A Trip To The Library

Reader's Digest Canada|November 2019

A Trip To The Library
When SUSAN ORLEAN takes her son to their local branch for the first time, her childhood love of the stacks is brought back to life
Susan Orlean
I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. I was raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, just a few blocks from the brick-faced Bertram Woods branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. I went there several times a week with my mother. She and I would walk in together, but as soon as we passed through the door, we each headed to our favourite section. The library might have been the first place I was ever given autonomy.

Even when I was about five years old, I was allowed to head off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I would reunite at the checkout counter. Together we’d wait as the librarian pulled out the date card and stamped it with the checkout machine—thumping the card with a loud chunk-chunk, printing a crooked due date underneath a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times.

Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I’d arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I desired.

I loved being in the car and having all the books we’d gotten stacked on my lap, their Mylar covers sticking a bit to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for. On the ride home, my mom and I talked about the order in which we were going to read our finds, a solemn conversation in which we planned how to pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due.


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November 2019